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HBO Toys with Transhumanism

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(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

The highly popular HBO show Succession tells the story of a media empire ruled by a cantankerous, manipulative businessman, Logan Roy, and his three children who are hardly any better. Most of the show is a commentary on the corrupting effects of wealth and the power dynamics involved in the media empire’s core leadership. 

In the dramatic fourth season, Logan Roy dies from what seems to be a stroke while he’s flying to Norway to discuss a giant merger deal with another media mogul. From there, the three Roy children, Kendall, Roman, and Shiv (along with a half-brother, Connor, who doesn’t care as much about his place in the kingdom) scramble to figure out the leadership, direction, and legacy of Waystar Royco. They have to figure out how to deal with their grief, complex anger toward their father, and their newfound roles in the company. Kendall and Roman end up becoming co-CEOs while Shiv takes on an advisory role. Still, it soon becomes clear that however much they want to be dominant and in control, their various insecurities and vices keep complicating their careers and their relationships. In this world, love is impossible because friendship and family relations are all instrumental, however cloaked in flattery or congeniality. 

Let’s Go After the Immortality Market

In episode 6 of season 4, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have an odd but illuminating conversation about the future of the company. It’s still only days after the death of their father, but they’re already rolling out plans for a real estate sector, and are in conversation with an eccentric billionaire about a buyout. In their ponderings about what ground to break next, Kendall mentions the easily attainable goal of immortality. (That was a joke.) The scene is so powerful in part because it’s obvious both sons aren’t coping well with their father’s death. They’ve hardly had time to grieve. Driven by the demands of this big new deal that Logan Roy basically died pursuing, they’ve gone from one meeting to the next. The people around them offer shallow condolences, but we don’t ever get the sense that many people are actually mourning this man’s death. Shiv, the daughter, has “scheduled” her grief sessions, indicating how overwhelmed these people are by the demands of their own power and influence. 

So, when “living forever” is mentioned as a company goal, however silly, it indicates the sons’ personal discomfort with death. They have to think about it now, but since the company is their life (not just their livelihood) they must seek to cheat mortality through the dollar. 

The show does a fantastic job of showing how grief is complicated when it involves the death of a brash, unkind man. The children live in immense wealth and privilege but also in the shadow of their father’s disapproval. Even after his death, they can’t quite escape his influence. 

The goal of bio-longevity isn’t pursued too deeply in the episode, but the kernel has been placed and it may get more screen time in future episodes. The sons have inherited the company. Now they want to govern it forever.

Cross-posted at Mind Matters News.